The horticulture industry and environmentalists are in a "good place" for the first time since anti-peat campaigns began 20 years ago, Sustainable Growing Media Task Force member Friends of the Earth (FoE) has said.
The comment from capmaigns director Craig Bennett follows broad agreement from the HTA, Horticultural Development Company (HDC), NFU, growers, peat producers and lobbyists on a task force statement welcoming chairman Dr Alan Knight's recent report and proposed road map of actions.
They agreed the report "provides a pragmatic and balanced summary of the environmental, social and economic factors in the complicated debate on the sustainability of growing media".
The task force has broadened its focus to include an assessment of the environmental, social and economic credentials of growing-media materials such as coir, green waste and wood.
Bennett said: "We welcome this. We have got to a good place. We're seeing a real effort and fresh impetus coming from the sector to try and deliver a step change.
Tim Briercliffe, the HTA's business development director, said the task force has highlighted that "alternatives also have a sustainability issue. If you focus on peat you could move to an alternative but how do you know it is any more sustainable? This approach ensures you evaluate coir, wood waste and green waste."
He added: "Peat has sustainability issues and the industry needs to continue moving away from peat, which damages the environment, but what we are moving to has to be sustainable."
Briercliffe said the 2020 deadline to withdraw peat from sale to consumers is now a "less relevant question" if Defra agrees to the task force road map. "There will definitely be very good-quality growing media for the consumer and peat may play a significant part of it. We can't predict how this is moving forward as we investigate and develop other materials."
Scotts Miracle Gro general manager Martin Breddy said a select committee report calling for peat use to end before 2020 is "a fly in the ointment" but as long as there is a "level playing field" with compost audited, as the task force is working on, "we can compete".
Vital Earth managing director Steve Harper said: "Knight has taken the politics out of it. It's now all about creating sustainable growing media by benchmarking everything against each other. Peat will stand and fall against all other products."
The task force is now awaiting Defra ministers' formal response, due by the end of the year.
Industry figures respond to work to date of Sustainable Growing Media Task Force
"This whole exercise has galvanised the industry to develop materials for the responsible use of substrates while maintaining the viability of the industry."
Neil Bragg, chairman, Horticultural Development Company
"The work of the task force has produced a comprehensive and evidence-based way forward. The work proposed under the road map will be ground-breaking and will enable professional growers to demonstrate and improve their sustainability credentials in the area of growing media. We look forward to getting the full support of Government."
Chris Hartfield, horticultural adviser, NFU
"It was the agreed position and I agreed to the conclusions. The next step is to wait for Defra's reply."
"It's important that we keep up momentum and build on the progress made so far."
Ben Malin, Somerset Peat Producers
"The phrase 'to ensure that Government supports the broader approach to a sustainable future rather than a preoccupation with peat and reduction targets' highlights how things have changed."
Bernard Burns, chief executive, Sinclair.